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Criminal law


Criminal law (also known as penal law) is the body of law that regulates governmental sanctions (such as imprisonment and/or fines ) as retaliation for crimes against the social order . The goal of this process is that of achieving criminal justice . According to criminal law, crimes are offences againstthe social order and government officials are responsible for theprosecution of offenders. The major objective of criminal law is deterrence and punishment, while that of civillaw is individual compensation. Criminal offences consist of two distinct elements; the physical act (the actus reus,guilty act) and the requisite mental state with which the act is done (the mens rea, guilty mind). For example, inmurder the 'actus reus is the unlawful killing of a person, while the 'mens rea is malice aforethought (the intention to kill orcause grievous injury). The criminal law also details the defenses that defendants may bring to lessen or negate their liability(criminal respensability) and specifies the punishment which may be inflicted. Criminal law neither requires a victim, nor avictim's consent, to prosecute an offender. Furthermore, a criminal prosecution can occur over the objections of the victim andthe consent of the victim is not a defense in most crimes.

Criminal law in most jurisdictions both in the common and civil law tradition is divided into two fields:

  • Criminal procedure regulates the process for addressingviolations of criminal law
  • Substantive criminal law details the definition of, and punishments for, various crimes.

Criminal law distinguishes crimes from civil wrongs such as tort or breach of contract . Criminal law has been seen as a system of regulating the behavior of individualsand groups in relation to societal norms at large whereas civil law is aimed primarily at the relationship between privateindividuals and their rights and obligations under the law. Although many ancient legal systems did not clearly define a distinction between criminal and civil law, in England therewas little difference until the codification of criminal law occurred in the late nineteenth century. In most U.S. law schools,the basic course in criminal law is based upon the English common criminal law of 1750.

A society should not be judged on how it treats its outstanding citizens but by how it treats itscriminals..... Fyodor Dostoyevsky

See also


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